A review of ‘Winter of the World’ by Ken Follet
The second novel in Ken Follet’s century trilogy, “Winter of the World,” takes place during WW-II and follows a variety of new characters as well as some of our favorite ones from the first book. The two worlds are once again seamlessly melded by Ken Follet, who has a trademark genius for merging fiction with reality. This lengthy and captivating novel captures our interest and compels us to turn every page.
The story begins with a peek into Germany before the rise of the third Reich and the fascist Nazi party. With their currency devalued and rising hyperinflation, the people of Germany are looking around for any hope they can find. Despite forming a minority government, Adolf Hitler manages to bully his other political allies and opponents to give him powers as an absolute dictator.
Around the same time, there is a civil war in Spain that creates ripples all across the world. The left leaning democratically elected second Spanish republic is threatened by the rise of a military dictator general Franco who is making rapid advances across the country in a move to grab power. The entire world is invested in this war in one way or the other. The bolshevik government in Russia and the labor parties all across the world are rooting for the Spanish republic while the American capitalists and German and Italian fascists are siding with the general. Although not mentioned in this story, we know that the Spanish civil war of 1936 to 1939 was, in fact a dress rehearsal for the second world war. The infamous bombing of Guernica by the Luftwaffe served as a demonstration of the new and reinvigorated power of the German military.
Fuelled by ultra jingoistic nationalism and his unwavering belief in the supremacy of the Aryan race, Adolf Hitler invades Poland in 1939 sparking off the powder keg of events we know today as World war II. This resulted in France and Britain declaring war on Germany. While this was happening, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler had signed a non-aggression treaty with each other which resulted in the majority of the fighting two concentrate on the western front of Germany.
Meanwhile, in the Pacific theater, Japan starts making imperialist moves and begins to take over large swathes of land in Asia to fuel its industrial growth with rubber and oil. The American President, Franklin D Roosevelt does not want to be dragged into a war and is focused on his new deal for promoting free trade across the world and to uplift America from the economic slump of the late 1920s. Germany takes over France and establishes a puppet government in Paris bringing the war very close to home for Britain’s liking who by now is looking westwards and hoping that the United States of America joins the war.
The axis powers have almost won the second world war but for their two follies which result in poking the proverbial bear. Adolf Hitler launches operation barbarosa against Russia and around the same time the Japanese imperial fleet bombs the American Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This provokes both the neutral giants to join the war and change the course of history as we know it today. Soon the Americans launch the D-Day attack from Normandy and liberate France continuing to push eastwards into Germany while the red army pushes westwards into Berlin. By the beginning of summer of 1945, the allied powers are victorious in the European theater and have vanquished the threat of fascism in Italy and Germany. In a bit to hasten the end of the war, America drops nuclear bombs in Japan, forcing it to surrender.
The stark contrast that I gather between the two world wars is that the first world war was a far away event happening somewhere in the trenches for most of the people, while the second world war was right at home with both sides of the belligerents bombing each other civilian population. In fact, it is said that towards the end of the war The United Kingdom and its allies followed a deliberate policy of bombing civilian residential complexes near factories did the sole purpose of killing as many factory workers as possible because skill labor was hard to replace.
Another great change was the advancement in communications and thereby an advancement in the technologies used for spying and transmitting of information vital to the military operations on both the sides. We have great descriptions of the espionage operations that were happening on both the sides of the war. We also see a glimpse of the bipolar world of Russia and the United States that was beginning to emerge even before the end of the conflict. There is a very clear line dividing the ideologies, methodologies, results and thought processes of both the great powers of the later half of the 20th century
Despite being on the other side of the trenches, both the allies and the axis powers flirted with each other’s ideologies long before the war had started with a general support for Hitler across the countries in the conservative groups irrespective of the national identity.
As with the novel before this, I see that the author chose to ignore all that is happening in the colonies of these great powers. Not a single mention is made of the atrocities committed by the colonisers in India, Africa and the rest of the world. Nor is there a mention of the independence movements that are happening around this time. It looks as though that these countries do not have any colonies at all because there is not a single mention of them. The author is from the United Kingdom and his bias is visible on this issue.
That being said, this page turner definitely educated me a lot on the politics and the life of normal people who only suffer the consequences of their political choices in great detail.
I believe that life of a Welsh minor, Australian aboriginal, Indian farmer is not very different for they have been lied to, manipulated and used for the personal and political ambitions of the ruling class all across the world in a fashion not very different from each other.